Carpe diem. Right now is the time to glory in Western New York summer, and zillions of restaurants in the area are waiting to help you do it. Each and every dining place around here, it seems, has made provisions for you to eat outside.
Well, that's OK with me -- terrific, actually. I don't want to go inside until Labor Day, so for the next few weeks or so, I'll be talking about some of the interesting al fresco dining opportunities that exist around here. First off the mark, one of the more remarkable ones: the patio behind Allentown's La Tee Da is the perfect city backyard.
Enter from the side parking lot to a fenced-in expanse, shady and beautifully gardened. There are umbrellas; there are twinkling lights; there is even a little bar. All the tables are centered with lovely fresh flowers; the music is sophisticated without depending too much on percussion or bass.
In short, it's the perfect setting. So -- and this is important -- how is the food?
The short answer: Very good.
The menu lists a goodly number of salads -- the Poached Pear being the shining star ($13). The Bosc is poached in red wine and served up with caramelized pecans and dried cranberries. It's topped with raspberry vinaigrette, too -- and in this salad, for once, that slightly sweet dressing is not misplaced.
The House Salad ($6) is pretty to look at, with shredded carrot, chichis, cucumber, tomato, red onion and balsamic vinaigrette. Only one first course disappointed us: the sauteed Soft Shell Crab, cooked up naked without battering, sounded wonderful but turned out to be skinny and too dry.
The Ahi Tuna entree ($22), however, was exceptional, and very generously served. Cooked to the perfect degree of juicy done-ness, the black, sesame-crusted fillets were pan-seared with pickled ginger and wasabi sauce served on the side. Also worthwhile: lemon butter grilled Lobster, Shrimp and Scallops over Pesto Pasta ($28).
That pesto, by the way, was good and full of basil -- there was just the right amount of sauce. The roasted pine nuts didn't hurt.
Other a la carte pastas include one with Sicilian Style Red Sauce, and another with Spicy Chicken Sausage and Spinach in Tomato Cream Sauce over Penne ($15). Then there is Capanata, a vegan item featuring eggplant, zucchini, onions, peppers, garlic and tomatoes ($15).
Meat? Sure enough, served with roasted potato and butternut flan: Asian BBQ Boneless Short Ribs ($16); Garlic-studded Strip Steak ($24); and Roasted Chicken Breast with Gorgonzola Sauce ($15). Half a duck in cherry sauce is $26.
Surfeited with good food, nice music and fresh air, you may be tempted to skip dessert. Don't.
Desserts at La Tee Da are housemade and real. Case in point: the Blueberry Buckle -- cake loaded with fresh fruit. And a light and ladylike angel food decked with honest-to-goodness whipped cream.
LA TEE DA
3 stars (Out of 4)
WHERE: 206 Allen St. (881-4500). Contemporary food with Italian influences. The best place to eat here, now that summer has arrived, is the back patio, a city-dweller's dream (enter from the side parking lot). Reservations advised. Credit Cards: American Express, Master Card, Visa.
FAVORITE DISH: Poached Pear Salad
NEEDS WORK: Fried Soft Shell Crab
PRICE RANGE: Entrees with starch and vegetable from about $15.
SERVICE: Very good.
HOURS: 5 to 10 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday.
WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Yes
PARKING: On the street or in the lot next door (metered).
RATINGS: Stars reflect the overall dining experience at the time of The News' visit -- including service, ambience, innovation and cost -- with greatest weight given to quality of the food.